Leadership Styles and Theory

Leadership is the process of motivating a group of people to act towards accomplishing a common task. There are number of recognized versions, or styles, of leadership, some of which have been shown to be more effective than others. In 1939, a group of researchers led by German-American psychologist Kurt Lewin identified three major leadership styles: authoritarian or autocratic; participative or democratic; and delegative. Good leaders may well adopt some element of all of the styles of leadership.

Autocratic leaders seek to have the most authority in decision-making and provide the rest of the group with clear expectations regarding what needs to be done and how it should be done. They try to make as many decisions as possible and consultation is minimal. This leadership style is effective on short-term projects or in environments where employees are poorly motivated or need to perform low-skilled tasks.

This leadership style offers some benefits to managers who use it. It reduces their stress levels as they know they have full control and it also improves the working speed of poorly motivated employees, who know they are being watched by a leader. One of the main disadvantages of this style is that by making all the decisions, the leader doesn't give the other members of the group the opportunity to start their leadership development. By taking all responsibility, the leader works at full capacity, which can lead to health problems and poor working relationships with colleagues.

Participative or democratic leadership style is generally seen to be the most effective. Democratic leaders offer guidance to group members and participate in the group. Democratic leadership promotes sharing of responsibility and continual consultation. The leader delegates tasks to each member of the group and gives full control over them. Democratic leaders encourage others to get involved in leadership development.

This leadership style has many benefits. Employees that are given responsibility tend to become more enthusiastic about their work and are involved more in the accomplishment of their task. Consulting the other members of the group and giving and receiving feedback results in better decision making and creative thinking. But consulting over every decision can be time-consuming and can cause opportunities to be missed.

Delegative leadership style gives little or no guidance to group members, but allows them to make the decisions. This style can be effective in situations where group members are highly qualified or when the leader trusts them. However, it can lead to poorly defined roles within the group and a lack of motivation.

Over time, many other leadership theories have been developed. Most can be classified as one of the eight major types.

  • "Great Man" theories assume that great leaders are born, not made. Leaders have exceptional qualities and are destined to lead. They are portrayed as heroes who will rise to leadership when needed.
  • Trait theories are similar to "Great Man" theories. These theories assume that people inherit certain qualities and traits that are suited to leadership.
  • Contingency theories state that no leadership style is suited for all situations. Success depends on situational factors, including the leadership style and the abilities and behavior of the followers.
  • Situational theories assume that the best action of the leader depends on a range of situational variables including motivation and capability of followers.
  • Behavioral theories are based on the assumption that great leaders are made, not born. They don't focus on the leaders' inborn traits, but on what they can do. According to these theories, leadership can be learned, rather than being inherent.
  • Participative theories assume that the members of the group make decisions together while leaders help them feel more relevant within the group.
  • Management theories, also known as transactional theories, are based on a system of rewards and punishments. The leader creates a clear structure which states what is required from each member of the group. Transactional leadership is mainly used in companies, when the employees' performance is good, they are rewarded and when it is poor they are reprimanded.
  • Relationship theories, also known as transformational theories, focus on the relationships between the leader and the members of the group. Transformational leaders put passion and energy in everything and inspire and motivate the members of the group. These leaders focus on the performance of each member group and help them fulfill their potential.

Leadership Styles and Theory: Selected full-text books and articles

An Integrative Theory of Leadership By Martin M. Chemers Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
The Future of Leadership Development By Susan Elaine Murphy; Ronald E. Riggio Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Foundations for a Theory of Leadership"
Organizational Behavior: Foundations, Theories, and Analyses By John B. Miner Oxford University Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: Part III "First-Generation Theories: Leadership"
The Invariance of Leadership Styles across Four Countries By Gibson, Cristina B.; Marcoulides, George A Journal of Managerial Issues, Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer 1995
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Organization and Leadership Theory: An Evolutionary Psychology Perspective By Spohn, Melinda Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 1-2, March 2005
Leadership Style and Organizational Commitment: Mediating Effect of Role Stress By Dale, Kathleen; Fox, Marilyn L Journal of Managerial Issues, Vol. 20, No. 1, Spring 2008
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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